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Sunday, October 11, 2015

This is exciting

I recently saw someone inveighing online against what they described as an "ugly, ugly" usage which they felt should be "stamped out".

Another website called this usage "an abomination". I'll let you contemplate the Oxford English Dictionary definition for "abomination" -- "a loathsome or wicked act or practice; a detestable vice" -- and let you decide whether this word should be bandied about quite as much as it is for language usages people don't like because they're different than (or is it "from"? or "to"?) theirs.

What was this hideous abomination?  

People saying they are "excited for", rather than "excited about" some upcoming event. 

(I am not talking about the usage "excited for someone" meaning "excited on someone's behalf".)

First off, if any of you can tell me objectively why the preposition "for" is "ugly" (let alone "ugly, ugly") as compared to the (presumably "beautiful"?) preposition "about", I will give you some sort of prize.

The prepositions that collocate with adjectives and verbs are fairly arbitrary, as anyone learning a second language quickly discovers. 

We are bored "with" but tired "of" things (although "bored of" is gaining, much to the dismay of many). We are interested "in" but fascinated "with/by" things. We hope "for" but look forward "to" future events. Now we are happy "about" things, but we used to be happy "at" things.

Second, I have to tell you, by the time you notice a new usage, it has already reached a critical mass where you can't do anything about it, even if it were desirable to do so.

I can't tell you exactly where "excited for" arose, but it is very common amongst people under 35, and appears to have been in use by them for at least the last 10 years. 

Date 2007
Publication information Psychology Today: May/Jun 2007: . Vol. 40, Iss. 3; pg. 39, 2 pgs
Title Folk Futurist
Author Matthew Hutson (born ca. 1978)
Whether they're about being excited for an upcoming pizza party or the despair of a madman who's fallen for a woman, Coulton's songs hit home with musical sophistication and heartfelt sincerity

Date 2003
Publication information Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press,
Title Feed 
Author Anderson, M. T.(born 1968)
Violet looked great in her low shirt, and besides that she was smiling, and really excited for her idea

Date 2009
Publication information New York : Simon & Schuster
Title This is how it starts
Author Ginder, Grant. (b. ca. 1982)
 "Yes, sir," I say and take a sip of the champagne. "I'm very excited for the opportunity"

Date 2006
Publication information Washington Post: 061115: SPORTS
Title Campbell Gets Shot to Go From Idle to Idol
Author Jason La Canfora, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Redskins are hoping that durability and elusiveness will aid their offensive line ..." I'm very excited for this, " guard Randy Thomas [born 1976] said. 

Date 2008
Title CBCnews.ca 2008

Rachel Decoste [born ca. 1980], who organized the party as a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa, said she was beside herself. " I'm just excited for the future, the future of America, the future of the world, and the future of people of colour, who now feel that they have a leader of the most powerful country in the world, " she said.

It may have arisen because of a perceived need to distinguish between excitement about something that one already has -- "I'm so excited about my new smartphone" -- and excitement about something that one is anticipating -- "I'm so excited for the ballet season", with the latter choice of preposition being influenced perhaps by the established phrasal verbs "hope/wish/long/yearn for". Once established, the distinction obviously proved useful, since it has spread. Perhaps some of the "excited for" users make negative comments about those who DON'T make the distinction!

Whatever the reason, the usage is here to stay, and people should save their opprobrium for real abominations.

In short, don't get excited about it.

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  1. I have to say that I wonder what you'd consider examples of "real abominations." :-)

    1. mass shootings, terrorist acts, female genital mutilation, things like that...

    2. Aha! Good and valid point. I was slightly worried that you might have been referring to other language usages, none of which (imo) ever rise to the level of "abomination."

  2. This is the first convincing explanation I've seen for this new(ish) prepositional use. Rings true to me. Liz

  3. So what about the dropping of prepositions entirely, as in "I graduated high school" rather than "from high school" or "She passed" rather than "passed away (died)." I get very irked by that.

  4. I have written about "graduate" here: https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2013/07/by-degrees.html


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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.